|Courtesy of Yahoo|
“Staff ace Mark Buehrle” – it’s a phrase one could throw around facetiously with the way the Blue Jays starting rotation has underperformed this year, but there’s actually quite a bit of truth to it.
In the offseason, Mark Buehrle was pegged as the Blue Jays fourth best starting pitcher in a star-studded rotation. Come season’s end, he’ll likely end up being the best starter on the Blue Jays pitching staff.
That may not be saying much for a starting rotation that’s seen injuries to Josh Johnson, J.A. Happ, the Jekyll/Hyde act of R.A. Dickey, and a patchwork back-end of the rotation, but being the best of the worst must count for something, right?
It’s odd because most projection had Mark Buehrle pegged to suffer some regression this year. He was a fly ball pitcher moving to a home run-friendly ballpark. Buehrle was moving to the American League East as well, home to many divisional heavy-hitters.
And as a pitch to contact guy, Buehrle didn’t exactly have the best defense behind him this year either. And although he has a reputation as a soft-tosser, Mark Buehrle’s fastball velocity has seen a steady decline over the years (this year it’s sitting at 84.1 MPH).
So all indications pointed towards Mark Buehrle getting blown up this year, and yet for some reason he’s been the saviour of the Blue Jays starting rotation.
I say “saviour” tongue-in-cheek because the only thing Buehrle really saved the Blue Jays from was having the second worst rotation in baseball as opposed to the very worst; a title that’s bestowed upon the Houston Astros.
Surprisingly, Mark Buehrle owns the second best ERA in the AL since the All-Star break. And after having a bit of a slow start in the first 5-6 weeks of the season where he was particularly prone to the longball, Buehrle has settled in quite nicely.
In his first seven starts of the 2013 campaign, Mark Buehrle gave up 11 home runs and sported a 7.02 ERA. In 22 games, since, Buehrle has given up just 9 home runs total and owns an ERA just under 3.
It’s funny because there were a few points this season when it seemed like it would be a wise idea to unload Buehrle’s contract to whichever team would be willing to take him. But after witnessing the slew of pitching injuries suffered by the Blue Jays, hanging onto Buehrle might not be such a bad idea after all.
Of course, paying him $18 million at age 35 and $19 million at age 36 seems ludicrous by today’s standards. And there are other guys out there who could likely do the job for much less money. But how often can you basically buy a guaranteed 200+ innings pitcher who will stay healthy?
Buehrle doesn’t even need to be dominant, either. All he needs to do is pitch to contact and stick around long enough to hand things over to the bullpen. A bullpen that’s pitched the most innings in baseball this year, mind you.
It’s an artform that Mark Buehrle perfected over his 14 year career; one that doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. So if you’re looking for a pitcher to log 200 innings and make 30 starts, you can’t get a much safer bet than the soft-tossing lefty.
In a starting rotation picture field that’s filled with question marks, Mark Buehrle has been one of the very few constants for the Blue Jays. And subtracting him would only create another gap the Blue Jays would need to fill.
At least Mark Buehrle chews up innings, which is much more that can be said than the other high-priced pitcher acquired from the Miami Marlins, Josh Johnson. Who ever thought it would be Mark Buehrle having the superior season over Josh Johnson?
Mark Buehrle isn’t going to win a Cy Young any time soon, and he may not throw another perfect game or no-hitter, but he’s been one of the lone bright spots in what has been an otherwise forgettable season for the Toronto Blue Jays.
And I suppose that’s what’s so great about Mark Buehrle, is he’s remarkably transparent. He isn’t a pitcher that’s masquerading as an ace; he’s simply an innings-eater who can spot his pitches and fields his position incredibly well.
And for that, Mark Buehrle should be saluted. Thanks Mark, for making at least one aspect of this Blue Jays season watchable.